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We all need a vacation this summer! Head out for a top U.S. destination with your family, teens included. Choose one (or more!) of these family vacation ideas with teens and make up for last year. Find stunning national parks, mountaintop vistas and adrenalin-fueled city visits. These 26 top teen destinations will keep your teens tuned in to family time for a little longer. Then you can send them off to explore the world on their own knowing they have a well-traveled foundation.
Before I was a mom, I never thought about teaching travel skills. Then I looked down at my tiny baby and said, I’m going to show you the world!
Each summer, we loaded up and drove to the corners of the U.S. It took 12 summers, but we saw all 50 states. We’ve stopped at nearly every destination that appeals to families.
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How did I survive with three kids in a car? I raised kids who are good travelers. Bit by bit, they learned the skills needed to explore on their own. Along the way, I learned that kids can be better travelers than adults. They will drop their devices and see things that I’d never see. And that’s fun to see the world through your teen’s eyes.
It sounds like a cliché, but time flies when you’re raising kids. Between homework, games and daily chores, parenting is so busy. Don’t be the parent who wakes up on the morning of high school graduation, wishing you had more fun with your kids.
Start with this list of family vacation ideas with plenty of Instagram-worthy spots to thrill your teens.
Teens Worship the Beach
Think the turquoise water is only found at the all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean, like the Turks and Caicos, or Mexico’s Riviera Maya? Not at all! Find white sand a road trip away. And there are even all inclusive resorts in Florida with amazing beaches and, even better with ravenous teens, all the food they can eat!
Teens appreciate the beach even if they no longer build sandcastles in a ruffle-bottomed swimsuit.
With four miles of perfect white sand beach, the Gulf of Mexico on one side and Santa Rosa, on the other, Navarre Beach is the hidden gem of the Florida Panhandle.
This area offers bike paths for teens to explore and beach towns packed with hang-outs like ice cream shops and juice stands. And there is plenty to keep teens from complaining they’re bored. TravelingMom Breeze Leonard went ziplining on her Navarre Beach vacation while TravelingMom Allison Taylor and her family learned to kayak — and no one fell in! Add in water so blue you think it’s the Caribbean, and it’s easy to see why this area can become a family favorite.
Best of all, it can be rolled into a road trip to Orlando’s theme parks like Universal.
Southern California has been a mecca for the young at heart since the dawn of TV. The beaches of SoCal created a culture that teens still crave.
Be the cool mom and sign up your teens for surfing lessons in Los Angeles or San Diego. Check out the piers and board walks, both packed with fun. Your teens might even decide that the SoCal tops their college wish list too. Don’t forget Disneyland’s Star Wars attraction. Or hit the water parks.
Collect those miles or book those companion fares to say Aloha. Each of the Hawaiian islands offers a different feel.
Oahu is the top destination with the urban wonders of Honolulu, the famous Waikiki Beach and the legendary surfing on the more laid back North Shore of the island. Definitely spring for surfing lessons here. If nothing else, your teen will go home with a very cool t-shirt.
Maui offers beautiful beaches, immersive Hawaiian culture, the funky Lahaina waterfront town and the breathtaking drive along the Road to Hana. The drive is just 52 miles long. But with 620 curves and 59 narrow bridges, it can take a few hours. Along the way, you’ll see waterfalls, beaches, and the charming town of Hana. It’s up to you whether you want to give your teen driver time at the wheel.
The Big Island of Hawaii has 10 of the world’s 14 climate zones. Active volcanoes, beaches, waterfalls, cultural sites, and coffee farms are among the many attractions. The island has two airports: Hilo International Airport, and Kona International Airport. Consider flying into one and out the other. Don’t miss the famous black sand beaches or a visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Kauai is the greenest of the islands, and the filming location for the first Jurassic Park movie. Treat your teens with a helicopter ride over the interior or a boat ride to see the gorgeous Napali Coast from the water. If your teens likes to hike, this is the place. But start early. There only a handful of parking spots at the trail head.
The “Third Coast” as Lake Michigan boosters like to call it (yes, people surf on Lake Michigan –wearing wet suits) is home to one of the world’s most beautiful beaches, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park near Traverse City.
TravelingMom Kristin Shaw visited on a multi-gen family vacation with her parents and her tween son. They drove along Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, which winds around itself like the entry road to Yosemite Park in California, and stopped at outlooks 8 and 9.
The first stop is the Instagram-worthy Glen Lake Overlook where they oohed and ahhed at the impressive vistas. Next is the Dunes Overlook, where you can take in a panoramic view of the North and South Manitou Islands, Pyramid Point, Sleeping Bear Bay, the Sleeping Bear Dunes, and more.
When TravelingMom Cindy Richards visited with her teens, her track star son ran down the steep dunes and spent a challenging hour climbing back up. These days, there’s a sign at the top warning people against attempting that feat. If you attempt the dune climb and can’t make it, you’ll be charged $3,000 for the rescue.
Best Road Trips with Teens
There’s something special about road tripping with teens — and it’s not just that they’re old enough to do some of the driving. Being in the car for all of those hours leads to long talks about nothing special, silly rounds of car games, belting out tunes and eating snacks.
The destination matters, of course. After all, you’ve got to convince the teens to spend days away from their friends and hours in the car with you.
TravelingMom Cindy Richards likes to choose road trip destinations that required long stretches of driving through spotty cell service. Without a connection, her teens were more likely to talk to her. While it gets tougher all the time to find a place in America where “you can’t hear me now,” it’s still possible with these trips.
5. Chicago to Mount Rushmore
This classic Midwest road trip must include kitschy stops at the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota, and the giant Wall Drug in Wall, South Dakota. Give the kids some money to spend at both places. You might be surprised by what they choose to buy.
Cindy’s kids spent an hour giggling and trying on cowboy hats — until a store clerk pointed out the sign that said “No Trying on Hats.”
TravelingMom Tip: Don’t do this drive during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Week in early August unless you like the deep-throated roar of hundreds of thousands of Harleys while you’re trying to commune with nature in the Black Hills.
6. Los Angeles to Sequoia National Park
Plan this trip for the spring and stop at the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve in Lancaster. The red poppy field should be in full bloom then.
Once you get to Sequoia, impress the teens with the redwoods so tall they touch the sun. My kids had fun climbing through the trunk of a fallen giant. If you’re family is into camping, bring the tent or rent a cabin.
One of seven national parks a road trip away from Los Angeles, Sequoia was the second park in the US National Park system, established in 1890. It’s where you can find General Sherman, the largest tree in the world.
7. New York to Vermont
What teen wouldn’t want to road trip for ice cream? There’s lots to do in Vermont, but the promise of a visit to the Ben & Jerry’s factory in Waterbury is a must. Don’t leave without paying your respects to the ice cream flavors resting peacefully in the Flavor Graveyard.
But that is just one Instagram-worthy stop on this Northeast road trip. There’s also lovely Lake Champlain and quaint small towns along the way that showcase white-steepled churches and historic storefronts.
Active teens will want a detour to neighboring New Hampshire to climb Mount Washington. Hiking up is not for everyone — Mount Washington has some of the worst weather in the USA — but everyone can get to the peak via the Mount Washington Cog Railway.
8. Albuquerque New Mexico to Amarillo Texas
Plan to stop along the way in Tucumcari, New Mexico, another Instagram-friendly spot. TravelingMom Nasreen Stump discovered Tucumcari by accident on a New Mexico road trip. Hotels in Santa Fe were pricey. She and her family needed to be in Canyon, Texas, (near Amarillo) the next night. As she searched for motel rooms along a remote stretch of Historic Route 66, all options pointed to Tucumcari.
Back in the heyday of Route 66, Tucumcari was the place to stop along the way. Book a stay in one of the really cool vintage motels, complete with nostalgic neon signs.
The goal of this road trip, though, is Cadillac Ranch. That’s the too-weird-to-be-believed dessert installation of Cadillac chassis half-buried in a cow patch near Amarillo. Stop at the nearby Home Depot to buy cans of spray paint (or bring your own). The kids WILL be spray painting the cars. (You should, too!)
Mountains Call the Teens Too
The mountains are a great active family vacation destination with teens. In the winter, active snow-friendly activities abound — skiing, snowboarding, sledding, ice skating and more. In the summer, the mountains are in bloom and hiking and mountain biking are the activities of choice.
For active outdoorsy families, heading to the mountains, one of the best vacations for teens.
Colorado’s Rockies tops the continent with more than 50 peaks above 14,000 feet. Climbing a fourteener might be more than your teens can conquer. But Colorado offers an array of teen-friendly outdoor sports for families, like hiking, mountain biking, whitewater rafting, horseback riding, rock climbing, ziplining and hot springs.
The mild summer temperatures offer a respite when most of the U.S. is sweating through their shirts. Although, as TravelingMom Editor Cindy Richards and her family learned on a summer Jeep tour into the mountains above Vail, it can be warm at the resort, but snowing at the top, so plan accordingly!
Winters offer world-class sports, like the teen fave, snowboarding, and skiing. Keep having fun with your kids longer and plan an annual ski trip. College students will flock home for the holidays if mom and dad pick up the tab for a ski trip.
10. Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe, east of San Francisco in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, offers Olympic snow since it hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics. I love Tahoe for its mellow California vibe that attracts moguls and boarders alike.
During the summer, Lake Tahoe offers a crystal clear lake for water sports, yoga retreats and an epic hiking trail, the TRT, the Tahoe Rim Trail. It’s also a fun spot for celebrity spotting!
11. Angel Fire New Mexico
This ski resort is a favorite of road tripping Texans, including TravelingMom Breeze Leonard.
She and her extended family — 17 of them! — went to Angel Fire where her family learned to ski. She liked that when you sign kids up for ski school, the ski rentals are included. The resort’s most teen-friendly feature: night skiing!
12. Big Bear Lake
TravelingMom Mimi Slawoff has been visiting Big Bear with her family (including the dog!) since the kids were little. As teens, they spend their days on the water, paddleboarding, kayaking, swimming and more. Rent a pontoon boat to take the whole family for a ride, or give the teens a thrill by renting jet skis for them to drive over the water or Segways for them to zip around on land.
TravelingMom Tip: If possible, avoid heading to Big Bear on a Friday afternoon. Unless you really like sitting in traffic.
13. Northern Michigan
While Westerners turn up their noses at the idea of Midwest skiing, Midwesterners know that there is plenty of snow fun to be had in northern Michigan.
TravelingMom Jamie Bartosch says Crystal Mountain Resort and Boyne Mountain Resort are great places for family vacations with teens in the summer as well as the winter. At Boyne Mountain, she and her family rode the ski lifts up to biking trails, ziplining (the awesome guides taught them how to go upside-down and hands free) and a disc golf course.
At Crystal Mountain Resort in Thomasville, Michigan, they zipped down the mountain on the alpine slide. Treat the kids to a throw-back evening of fun at the nearby Cherry Bowl Drive-In movie theater in Honor, Michigan.
14. Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Sometimes, one teen wants a mountain getaway with lots of outdoor activity while another wants a national park vacation. Just a handful of miles outside of Great Smoky Mountain National Park, these gateway towns offer both.
Find loads of activities from river rafting, mountain coasters and Dollywood, an affordable, family-friendly amusement park. With its quirky activities, like the Titanic Museum, this area offers lots of dining, lodging and quaint cabins too.
Show Teens a National Park
North America does epic landscapes really well. And the National Park Service parks attract visitors from around the globe — and it is also one of the best vacations for teens. Really.
Expect the parks to be busy this summer. Plans to arrive at the park before 9 a.m. to get in and grab a parking place.
15. Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park, located in northwest Wyoming and 320 miles northeast of Salt Lake City, tops my list for best vacations for teens. Old Faithful Geyser and Old Faithful Inn offer must-sees. Kids love animals, so drive through Hayden or Lamar Valley for bison, bear, elk or even wolves.
Give Yellowstone at least four days; I prefer a week. Be prepared to picnic for lunch since the food service isn’t conveniently located near iconic sights or hikes. Don’t miss out on the huckleberry ice cream.
TravelingMom Tip: Assign the teens to be the lookout, keeping their eyes on the horizon line in search of animals. And when you see a crowd along the road pointing at something, stop and park. The crowd has seen something you’ll want to see, too. Just remember to pull fully off the road.
16. Yosemite National Park
In the central Sierra Nevada mountain range of California and 200 miles east of San Francisco, Yosemite offers a convenient location and epic landscapes. But what’s the difference between the top two national parks?
Yellowstone is about its geothermal features, like geysers and mud pots, and the mighty mammals, like bear and bison. Yosemite offers an epic mountain landscape that even an amateur photographer can capture. The Yosemite Valley offers waterfalls, wildflower meadows and mountaintop vistas that inspire everyone, including Ansel Adams and naturalist, John Muir.
17. Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore National Monument in southeast South Dakota and 380 miles north of Denver, Colorado, is an image that most Americans know. To experience the magnitude of the sculpture, have the teens take the walk close to the side of the mountain and have them look up — right into George Washington’s nose!
Don’t think of Mt. Rushmore as a quick road trip stop. It’s one of the best vacations for teens when you explore the Black Hills of South Dakota, where Mt. Rushmore resides. The Black Hills offer several days of western family adventure, including rock climbing, water sports and ziplines.
Places to stay near Mount Rushmore: Black Hills Luxury Suites, Under Canvas Mount Rushmore, Holiday Inn Express & Suites – Rapid City – Rushmore South and more.
18. Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon National Park, in northern Arizona and 215 miles north of Phoenix, offers one of the best vacations for teens. During the summer, the south rim seems like the international terminal of JFK with visitors from around the globe. Stay for a few hours or stay for a few days. The Grand Canyon offers hikes and views for everyone in your SUV. And I still stop every time I drive across northern Arizona.
My active teens like white water rafting and kayaking; book at trip through outfitters.
Redwoods National Parks offer trees so big everything in its shadow seems small, even teen drama. I found redwood locations sprinkled throughout the west coast with several different varieties of trees.
My favorite park is located north of San Francisco at the Redwood National and State Parks, close to the border of California and Oregon. Redwoods grow in Yosemite and Sequoia national parks as well. Best family-friendly activities include horseback riding and biking, available through outfitters.
America’s newest national park in southern West Virginia is the place for adventure lovers. Of course you can camp and hike there, but you also can go whitewater rafting on the New River and take the New River Gorge Bride Walk.
That requires walking 3,030 feet along a two-foot-wide catwalk underneath one of the longest single span arch bridges in the world. At the center point, you’re 851 feet above the New River, looking down on the whitewater rafters below. Go the third Saturday in October for Bridge Day and you can watch BASE jumper jump off the bridge, or pay for your teen to zipline down to the bottom.
Cities to Visit with Teens
Teens have tons of energy, so head to the top cities of the United States for a getaway. Grab a metro card and explore by mass transit. With your maps app, it’s easy. Even better, get the teens to navigate.
Here are our favorite vacations for teens in big cities.
21. New York City
New York City packs energy that falls flat for younger kids, but teens possess the stamina for urban trekking at its finest. I lived in NYC for two years, but I didn’t introduce my kids to the metropolis until they were out of strollers and could walk all day without whining.
In a city that never sleeps, travel lessons abound. Use the subway to get around, a must-have skill for teens who will be exploring on their own in a few years. In my experience, the skills I learned in New York City helped me navigate any urban city around the globe, including Tokyo.
22. San Francisco, California
San Francisco offers vibrant culture and postcard landscapes with a mellower West Coast vibe. It’s easier to navigate by public transportation, like the famous street cars. And see American icons too, like the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, a favorite for teens. Then explore San Francisco by foot to see all the unique neighborhoods.
23. Boston, Massachusetts
Boston offers a maze of American History you and your teens can walk. Start in Boston Common, the park in the center of the city, and find the red line painted on the sidewalk. The Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile urban trail, will walk kids and teens through the American Revolution.
24. Washington D.C.
Washington, D.C., is another destination for older kids packed with history, culture and some of the best museums in the country, many of which are free. As the center of government, Washington is a must for future lawyers.
25. San Antonio, Texas
It’s the top destination in Texas. Walk along the oasis-like Riverwalk that winds through the downtown area; it’s home to Tex-Mex restaurants, museums and historic areas.
Across the street from the Riverwalk, see The Alamo, the mission and fort where the Battle of the Alamo happened in 1836. Now’s it’s part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Find waterparks and amusement parks in San Antonio too, along with some top resorts.
Disney with Teens
My final teen destination is Disney. My advice: take them. It’s an American institution. If your family isn’t crazy about all things Mickey and Minnie, limit your time at the park to a day or two.
Disneyland in California offers better year-round weather and other family-friendly destinations besides theme parks, like the beach. Disney World, in Florida, offers a city dedicated to all things Disney.
Teens love the thrill rides but can still appreciate a nostalgic character from their childhood. Bonus: Teens can roam the parks on their own while parents sample and explore nearby.
Traveling Mom recommends Get Away Today for discounted Disney tickets and vacation packages. Not only does the company have the lowest prices, it offers a best price guarantee. If you ever find park tickets cheaper, Get Away Today won’t just match the price, the company will beat it. Even better, save $10 on a two or more night trip with code TravelingMom– just for Traveling Mom Readers!
After purchasing your tickets from Get Away Today someone will reach out to you to answer any of your Disney vacation questions or help you create an itinerary for your visit.
The bottom line: The best vacations for teens are the ones you take them on. The country is big, time is short, and travel will benefit your teen in all areas of life. So make an investment now that will pay off in your child’s future!